Author Topic: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions  (Read 4262 times)


  • Electron Doctor
  • *****
  • Posts: 511
    • View Profile
Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« on: June 05, 2017, 12:28:42 PM »

Posted this in the beginners section to highlight how daft I might sound to anyone that's ever recorded anything before.

I've always been content to record on my phone as I never wanted to do anything with any recordings but now I'm finding myself getting an itch that only Audacity is scratching right now. Before I go down the road of "WTF is mixing...", I wondered if anyone had any suggestions about microphone preamps? I'm using a Shure Prologue 10L and a Lexicon interface but feel that because it's a dynamic mic I need a preamp to bring the level up (?) but I could be barking up the wrong tree in the wrong woods. Underwater. I've seen some amazing kits (DIY is preferred) but it seems they go from 5 and jump to 200+ with little inbetween!

If anyone has any input on the following:
 - Aside from my hands, what has the biggest impact on not making things completely shit? Interface, microphone, preamp, software, knowledge of how to use your chosen recording program? Obviously paying 0.99 for each of these means I may as well record a kazoo down a drainpipe but I know little about any of the chain.
 - Do you have any favourite sources of knowledge on recording for complete simpletons?

I'm obviously googling around reading all I can, I just wanted to see if any of you fine fellas had any suggestions, tips or whatnot.
I sometimes label builds rockwright


  • Electron Doctor
  • *****
  • Posts: 7426
  • Jon P
    • View Profile
    • Midway Fair
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2017, 12:59:53 PM »
Until you find them inadequate, use the preamps on your interface. Most interfaces these days have a better preamp than you can build or buy for less than twice the cost of the interface. Plus the more stuff you have to mess with the less time you spend listening critically and practicing. Get good with whatever you're limited to now and you will be able to get good with anything else.

More to the point, let me put it this way: Making a halfway decent op amp or discrete preamp is peanuts compared to making good ADC/DAC and drivers. The reason more expensive interfaces are more expensive rarely has anything to do with the preamps, except in some cases where the preamps are just noisy. (Presonus was like this, and maybe still is -- their interface preamps were embarrassingly noisy.)

You can use a cheap thing like a Cloudlifter or similar to boost the level of a dynamic. It might better than 20dB of gain from your preamp.

Gain does not make things sound better, though. The noise floor of 24-bit audio is extremely low. While you do have to worry about sampling issues as the noise gets quieter, we're talking under 50dB or maybe less, and that's less than quiet conversation volume across a table.

What you should be doing when you're just starting out is keeping things as simple as possible. Use one microphone on one instrument, even if that instrument is your voice. Move it around and record short samples and compare them. Put it everywhere. Figure out where different spots in your room sound different. Point it up, point it down, point it at the soundhole, point it at the headstock, learn what things actually sound like coming through your microphone. Entire albums have been recorded with nothing but an SM57. It can be done. But you have to listen.

What should you compare yourself to? Something you like the sound of. These are reference tracks. Get as close as you can.

Here are the things, in order, that matter the most:

1. The player.
2. The room.
3. The microphone placement.
4. The placement of the microphone in the room.
5. The appropriateness of the microphone placement in the room to the player.
6. The microphone's bandwidth appropriateness for the instrument being recorded.
7. The ability of the preamp to reproduce that bandwidth.
8. The ability of the ADC to reproduce that bandwidth.

Many people skimp on the room and spend thousands of dollars on gear. Don't be that person. Make your room sound as best you can and you will not fight your equipment as much.

Here is a crashcourse and a reading list:

Good luck.


  • Electron Doctor
  • *****
  • Posts: 511
    • View Profile
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2017, 09:33:45 AM »
Wow. Thank you midwayfair for that response, absolutely outstanding. You've either answered that before or you're a demon typist!

I'll go through the Reddit link with a fine-tooth comb and thank you for your insight. Going to spend the weekend wandering around with my amplifier and a microphone and dedicate a lot of time to this critical listening. It's weird that I have a habit of wanting to buy a PCB or a magic box to make it all better when patience and time is the better investment :-\ Huh.
I sometimes label builds rockwright


  • Global Moderator
  • Electron Doctor
  • *****
  • Posts: 7683
  • Jacob - SK, Canada
    • View Profile
    • JMK PCBs
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2017, 12:08:56 PM »
Jon is not wrong.

What I recommend to people starting out is that, as with guitar gear, Recording gear can be a 'must have the next better thing' sort of game. You can upgrade your mic infinitum, same with your preamps and outboard gear, and there's always another plugin that's better and stronger. This is a game, and you don't have to play it.

The best thing is set a budget in which you stay to get all the components you need. Make a list, check it again and again, then buy the best item you can afford in each category. Then, learn to use the gear you have. Trey Anastasio from Phish once said something that I've really taken to heart. "Making music isn't about having the best gear, it's about playing what you have, and knowing how to get the best out of the instruments you use." Or something like that. Knowing what you have, and how to use it, is more important than the latest greatest. Only then, when you've got what you've got going, will you know the limits of that gear, and can make an upgrade purchase to expand your limits.

Like Jon said, a 57 and a basic interface with built in preamps and the free software out there (Garageband, Audacity) is enough to get started. That's like $200 and the computer you already own. Start there, make some music, and take care of your room issues.

JMK Pedals - Custom Pedal Creations
JMK PCBs *New Website*
pedal company - youtube - facebook - Used Pedals

Addy Bart

  • Stompbox Star
  • ***
  • Posts: 220
    • View Profile
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2017, 03:33:20 AM »
Like Jon said, a Cloudlifter or equivalent transformer can do wonders for boosting signal without raising the noise level. I got this one from Xaudia in the UK, and i gained +20 db on a Coles 4038.

Another option is to DI your guitar and reamp it later. That way you can get quite deep into optimum mic placement for the gear you have available.

Aleph Null

  • Electron Doctor
  • *****
  • Posts: 713
  • Too obtuse to be square
    • View Profile
    • The Hard Problem
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2017, 10:11:44 AM »
Amen to everything midwayfair said! Here's an example of what can be achieved with affordable gear.


  • Solder Ninja
  • ****
  • Posts: 431
    • View Profile
Re: Microphone Preamp / General Recording Questions
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2017, 10:35:27 AM »
Sort of off topic, but I used Audacity on and off  from 2004 to 2014 while I goofed around with recording. I don't know how much it has changed in the past 3 years, but switching DAW's was better for my recording than any physical gear I bought. I don't want to plug MixCraft in particular, but Audacity was so limiting and non-intuitive for the type of music I was working on, it really hampered the whole process.